It's hard to remember an unluckier sequence of football than the first 30-35 minutes of this match. Carlo Ancelotti's men hit the pitch running, with James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale, in particular, making bright starts and buzzing relentlessly towards Diego Alves' goal.
Then in quick succession, Bale slammed a stylish taken free-kick off the right corner of the frame behind Alves in the 14th minute. Minutes later the tireless, hyperactive Bale again wrung a shot off the post after James dropped a gorgeous cross into the goalmouth. Not to be outdone, Cristiano Ronaldo leapt into the air to powerfully head home a ball that amazingly one more time glanced harmless off the left side of the goal behind Alves. This was the most damaging miss, as Valencia immediately launched a counterattack that saw Gaya move effortlessly into acres of empty space down the left flank to launch an inch-perfect cross into Paco Alcacer who outmaneuvered Pepe to slip the ball past Iker Casillas for a 1-0 lead.
Soon after this gut-punch, Real were further when Toni Kroos apparently injured his hamstring and was substituted for Asier Illarramendi as a precaution. Right after Illarra was introduced into the match, Dani Parejo delivered a dangerous free-kick into the box that was flicked home by Javi Fuego for a 2-0 Valencia lead. The marking was absolutely shambolic once again as Pepe was caught drifting out to sea with no less than three Los Che players having a wide-open look at goal. It could have been the moment that saw the title allude Real once again.
The team responded like champions, though, as the always dangerous James Rodriguez started an intricate move that saw Bale and Javier Hernandez play a one-two that resulted in Chicharito striking the woodwork yet again. Real kept exerting pressure and finally Gaya ran through Bale in the box, conceding a penalty right at the death of the first half. CR7 stepped up to the spot and the amazing Alves saved a blistering stop-start Ronaldo penalty, allowing Valencia to take their 2-0 lead into the dressing room. The penalty stop was Alves 16th saved penalty in his Primera division career.
Ancelotti replaced the sputtering Arbeloa and the ineffectual Fabio Coentrao at the half, injecting Marcelo and Dani Carvajal into the contest for the final 45. Carvajal made an immediate impact, unleashing a dagger ball to Chicharito that Alves had to bat away. The Spanish right back brought a jolt of energy and class that galvanized Real's attack. Pepe scored from a corner in the 59th minute, earning a measure of redemption for his ragged defending. At 2-1 Real fought viciously for an equalizer against a fluid, fresh-legged Valencia. Valencia absorbed Real's pressure, forcing them into making long, mostly harmless crosses as the clock ticked down. Valencia seemed nonchalant with regards to their own finishing, with Alvaro Negredo and Pablo Piatti both spurning excellent chances to put Real away for good. This blunted killer instinct would haunt them.
It took a moment of sublime individual brilliance from Isco to put Real on equal terms. The midfield magician danced around a defender and slid the ball to his right foot before unleashing a wicked volley that screamed past the stingy Alves. This wonder strike made it 2-2 and the foundations of the Bernabeu seemed to shake. Another goal seemed just inches away as Real pushed forward with abandon. But as the final whistle rang out, right as the ball seemed to bounce dangerously at Alves feet, the scored remained locked at 2. It was a gritty, hard-fought come back. Sadly, it's also a match that may leave Ancelotti's men pondering what might have been.
As far as Kroos' availability for Juventus midweek, a non-plussed Ancelotti told reporters: "Kroos will be tested tomorrow, it doesn't seem serious and it finally isn't a muscular problem." Extremely encouraging news to cap off a bittersweet day.